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A fallen ‘star’ at the nocturne..

You may think a nocturne is a musical composition and, of course, you would be right….but it’s more than that. In the world of cycle racing it is a city centre evening criterium, and Newport is the place where it all started in this country.

On Saturday Newport will host the next nocturne, and several of the High St businesses have incorporated a cycling theme in their displays, including this café where I had a pot of tea….poor girl, she is in the process of falling off her bike which is on the other side of the hedge….the fallen ‘star’ of the nocturne…..

The countryside is settling into the post-harvest stupor where the only activity seems to be the watering of a late foraging crop….but not sure what. But what I find staggering about the Staffordshire and Shropshire countryside are the miles of lanes that seem only to connect farms, and maybe the odd village, which are virtually traffic-free. Perfect for the likes of us roaming cyclists…..

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RAF 100th

The proximity of the RAF museum at Cosford made a visit during this 100th year of its existence obligatory….and a fascinating place it is too, especially the huge hangar dedicated to the period of the cold war.

Since I will be giving a talk and presentation later this week on my cycling adventure in Cuba last january, the displays on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 made poignant reading, and video footage of the events demonstrated just how close we came to all out nuclear conflict.

That aside, the cycling was relatively flat and wind-assisted on the journey home, and I grabbed this photo in case my cycling buddies just happened to fall off their bikes into the ford…..which they had done last year on a tandem. (Sadly) they failed to provide the entertainment….😊

1000 metres of climbing…

Crowden-Alton-Oakamoor 76km

A thousand metres of climbing over 76km is a challenging day in itself, but frustratingly more challenging when I couldn’t change down to my lowest gear at any point of the day, no matter how much fiddling and fettling…..so I ground my way up the hills fighting to maintain momentum, only being defeated by one especially brutal climb, limping into a cycle shop when the day was nearly over…..to be told the cable was completely ‘shot’. “Should I put a new one in for you?” he said. Is the pope a Catholic, I muttered to myself….so, within minutes it was re-cabled and the gears ‘retuned’…..and I left a happy bunny.

The ride took in the 13th century Croxden Abbey, whizzed through Alton (of the famous towers) and headed back through Oakamoor…..a lumpy bumpy route…..but it was exciting.

The countryside of Staffordshire is a well-guarded secret…..like it’s oatcakes, it’s appreciated by the conosseurs….and, of course, by cyclists like ourselves.

I shared the ride with 7 other fellow roadies from the bunch of 300 attending the Birthday Rides at Stone in Staffordshire…..but met up with others both on the road and at the café….a great social experience.

The Ti takes a camping trip..

Will the Ti take to carrying a bit of kit…? Let’s see.

Off to a major cycling festival in Staffordshire…..celebrating the 140th birthday of Cycling UK (formerly CTC)….hoping for lots of thrills….and no spills….

Back to Ti riding….

After several days of riding the tandem, getting back on the Litespeed Ti was a nervous twitchy experience….well, for about 2km anyway. From A to B routes on the tandem, I resume my home-based out-and-back rides on over-familiar roads when my mind dwells more than it should on ride stats.

45km of riding in this area can be made to look more like TdeF sprint for the line with a speed chart like this…

or a stage in the Pyrenees or Alps with an elevation chart like this…

Dream on….

Teetering on the edge: canal-side Bath to Devizes

On a solo bike, I am seldom of a nervous disposition, unless I have to negotiate something ‘technical’: like a narrow ledge with a steep drop, like a winding narrow track that slopes down the hillside, like a narrow towpath along the edge of a canal or river.IMG_20180728_111759859

On a tandem, that nervousness is doubled, because the captain is steering and balancing for two. Canal tow paths are glorious for their views, peace and tranquillity,  but as soon as the track narrows to within inches of the water, the jitters set in.

Today, however, we felt brave enough to stickIMG_20180728_111958605 with the Kennet & Avon canal, and we were rewarded with encounters of mixed and varied life, both on shore and on the water. Stag parties and birthdays were being celebrated on rental narrow boats, travelling communities had formed their ‘scrapyard’ enclosures, craft markets traded their goods, and groups of party-goers began their festivities cycling between drinking venues, mostly kitted out in fancy-dress. There was not a dull moment…..

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Deflation is rife: Devizes to Hungerford

Canal tow paths are not always suitable for bikes, so we steered off along the lanes, but that inevitably meant hills……….aarrgh, they go upwards. And that ain’t no easy task on a tandem. We may have two people pushing the pedals, but that definitely does not equate to twice the efficiency.

OK, we accept the hills, and we even welcomed the rain (after nearly 8 weeks of near-drought conditions)…….but what do you say to a puncture or two……and in the back wheel?IMG_20180730_111203657_HDR

I go weeks and months without a puncture on my solo bikes, and we seldom get them on the tandem, but when they strike, they are mean. Even meaner when you discover that the spare tubes that you have been carrying for years unused have the wrong type of valve for the hole in the wheel rim. The process of repairing a back wheel is tortuous….you have to take the panniers and the rack pack off the back first, and a Schwalbe tandem tyre is difficult to get off and to get back on again, and when you have to repair the puncture road-side in the wet, that is the most cruel and mean-spirited fate to befall the tandemist.

Of course the repair didn’t work, so we wheeled the tandem a couple of miles into Pewsey and, being a Sunday, found the only bike shop closed, so sought comfort in an all-day breakfast in a local café. When all was lost, a couple of cyclists walked in, I grumbled about our cursed situation, when one of them said he happened to have a spare tube of the right size…….. (sorry about the pun) but it saved our bacon. The moral of this little story is: always help out a fellow traveller if you can.

We finally made it to our destination in Hungerford and relaxed over an excellent meal in one of the local hostelries. All’s well that ends well…….IMG_20180802_155109

Throwing in the towel: Hungerford to Newbury

A logistical challenge was looming. The canal tow path was still too narrow for balancing on the tandem, with the added risk of falling into the water, so we headed off over the hills, making our route to Reading much longer than anticipated. And I had a logistical problem to solve…….how to get back to Bristol to pick up the car and get back to Reading in time.

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So we got as far as Newbury, I checked out the trains, there would be two changes to Bristol, but…….and this was a BIG BUT……the trains were disrupted by engineering works. To cut a long story short, I got to Bristol and got back to Newbury about five hours later where Jenny was patiently waiting for me on the station, and we headed off to a service station on the motorway and had ‘our lunch’ at about 7pm.

It’s never too late…….

 

“Twicing it”: Bristol to Bath

If tandeming is ‘twice the fun’, why aren’t there twice as many people ‘twicing it’ on two wheels?

“Ah, we used to do a lot of that when we was courtin’ in our youth. But then I got me first car……”

“Yuh know lad, me and me wife used to do a hundred mile a day on one of those when we was young and half the weight……….but now…..well, you now how things go…..”

“Them were the days……me and the ‘owd git’ used to take a ‘drum-up’ to have by the roadside…..the things we used to do…”

“Hey, she’s not pedalling on the back…..” (we force a smile at hearing it for the thousandth time….)IMG_20180727_101534140_HDR

Today, we began the first of a four day tour from Bristol to Newbury, stopping our first night in Bath. After spending the morning checking out the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the M-Shed museum in Bristol, IMG_20180727_130829061_HDRwe headed along the old railway track that took us into the heart of Bath, passing through the 300 metre Staple Hill tunnel, along deep cuttings, until we saw some of the amazing Georgian architecture of Bath.

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Riding for the Edge…

Riding for the Edge.

Titles are meant to catch your attention, even if the rest of the piece is of questionable interest. But now that I have your attention……

I set off for my customary Monday morning ride and my phone rings.

-Frank, that Garmin Edge 1000 you were inquiring about….well, I’ve got it here. I can let you have it for £150. When would you like to pick it up?

I need a cycling GPS with mapping and navigation, and an Edge 1000 would normally retail at about £350. I’ve finally decided the simplicity of the breadcrumb trail on my Edge 200 is just not enough, especially when crossing urban areas with complicated networks of cycle paths.

I was about to head west for a couple of hours, but Hilton was in the opposite direction, about 25 miles east.

-Great. OK, change of plan, I’m heading out your way. I’ll be with you in about an hour and a half…….what’s your address?

When I get there, he invites me into his workshop. He’s a retired engineer who has built himself a cycle repair workshop in his garden, which satisfies two important needs: it generates a bit of income but, more importantly, it keeps him busy. He just loves fettling bikes…..and is a bike rider himself, who likes to head off with his wife on fully-supported bike rides in far-off countries. Almost a man after my own heart…….just forget the ‘fully-supported’ bit.

I get home with the Edge 1000 and begin sifting through the User’s Manual online…….it’s infinitely more complicated than my old Edge 200………..sigh!

How big can they get?

Some hold-ups are annoying, unnecessary and downright frustrating, but if you insist on going for a ride through the countryside at this time of the year, you have to expect this from time to time……..and if you are in no hurry, and you engage with the farmer, it can be an informative and entertaining interlude in the ride……as this was.

The front-end of the combine (reaper/gatherer??) was so big, it had to be dismantled and separated from its enormous ‘parent’ and transported individually to the next field in line for harvesting. I asked the farmer the size of his combine: ‘Thirty five feet’, he told me……’but it’s not the biggest….which is currently forty feet’. I asked him if he had contracted it in: ‘No no, that’s mine….bought it last year….this is it’s second harvest……cost me £400,000. I’ll give it another year before I have to change it’.

I was trying to compute these enormous figures when I asked him when he would start to see a profitable return on his investment. ‘Profit? Profit? Nah, we farmers never talk about profit……..we’re farmers, after all’, he said, with a broad grin on his face…….

We stood and watched as this enormous beast began to swallow swathes of the field of rapeseed…….. simply astonishing.

When bike is faster than train..

Can a bike be faster than a train? Oh definitely….especially during this period of chaotic timetables on Thameslink.

I took the opportunity to hammer my way down to Potters Bar, close to the M25 (London’s outer ring road). It was 111km (70 miles) and it took me something over 4 hours, including a couple of stops. A super ride, along lots of surprisingly quiet country lanes, past George Bernard Shaw’s house, through parks and urban woodland, to Potters Bar station, where I would conveniently catch a train back to St Neots, just 17km from my home.

Conveniently? You have got to be kidding….! The first of my two trains was cancelled, for lack of a driver. Thameslink simply have not trained enough drivers for the new schedules. My second train from Stevenage was also cancelled, presumably for exactly the same reason.

So by the time I got home, including the ride from the station, my journey back by train had taken longer than my ride down. Moral of the story?

I suppose you could say the trains were delayed by a head wind…..😁

Animated routes….

The animated versions of my routes along the south coast give a very interesting perspective, especially of elevation and the coastal direction……you will notice moments of significant hesitation and changes of decision especially going through urban environments like Portsmouth and Southampton….

Hot, humid and hilly…

…..but the views from the tops were stunning.

The ride from the YHA (where I camped) in the New Forest began with a few kms of rough stuff, eventually dropped down to the beach at Bournemouth, where I had a glorious 12km riding between beach huts and a pristine white sand beach, the likes of which I had never seen in the UK….

At the end of the Sandbanks peninsula, the most expensive real estate in the UK, there is a chain link ferry that takes you over to Studland and the Purbeck hills, and my route took me past Corfe Castle, Lulworth Castle and Durdle Door….

…to finish on Portland (famous for its stone) and Chesil Beach, a long dune of stones and pebbles, made famous by novelist Ian McEwen.

Here I end my little flash-dash of 260km, camping in the garden of the YHA overlooking Chesil Beach….

and given the garden has a 15% slope, there may be a few slumbering bodies at the bottom by the morning….😊

Flash-dash no.4

Ah, the wind is coming from the east…..so back down to Brighton on a train crammed with beach-loving trippers who want to stretch out on the piercingly uncomfortable pebble beaches of the south coast……and get a tan.

I step off a beguilingly air-conditioned train to be greeted by the suffocating heat of Brighton… I started feeling week at the knees immediately….so, westwards I headed, enjoying a garden BBQ with family on my first night….

then on a long drawn out day, I painfully negotiated both Portsmouth and Southampton in my bid to get to the New Forest, only to find a chained gate trying to deprive me of my rightful access to a bridleway…..

I make a mental note to complain to the Forestry Commission….

but, as ever, there were moments to savour on the day’s 117km (73 mile) route….including the growing discomfort of the saddle!

Commuting with a smile…

Shopping errands become a ‘must-do’ when you can choose a route this nice…….. Vive ‘le shopping’!IMG_20180625_100501046_HDR

 

Solstitial fly-kipping….

You’ve all heard of ‘fly-tipping’…… the fly-by-night who leaves his rubbish by the roadside, usually so as to avoid paying an environmental fee at the waste disposal centre. Well, I’m going to add a new concept to the list of English phraseology…..’fly-kipping’. Ever done it? Well, you probably have at some stage of your life, but probably never on a summer solstice.IMG_20180621_060646089_HDR.jpg

If you have followed my ramblings for any length of time, you will know I like to go out on an all-night cycle ride through the night of June 20th, and ride into the sunrise, which usually happens about 4.40am round these parts. Well, as with my concept of the ‘flash-dash’ which triggered an eagerness to ring some changes to my riding, I decided to ring a change or two in how I celebrate the summer solstice this year. Instead of simply riding through the night and getting home and into bed at 6am, I decided to sleep out, to ‘stay out on the tiles’ and without a tent. For those of you who like to free-camp (responsibly, of course), the attraction of camping out somewhere on the night of the summer solstice has to be a huge draw.

So, at 23.00 hours, I set off in the dark, my way lit partly by the half-moon peering from behind the clouds, and partly by my bike light of very basic lumen output. I wore high-viz and had flashing lights front and rear, but I was still very wary of potholes, and many of the roads had no white markings, nothing to mark the centre point, not to mention where the road ends and the verge begins. The local fauna were in full voice. There were noises coming from every quarter. Every so often an animal would dart across the road in front of me…..I could only guess that it might be a fox, a muntjac, a rabbit or hare. My average speed was quite low, but I managed to get to my chosen destination by 00.30 hours, hoping that the door would be open. And it was…..!IMG_20180621_051342038.jpg

You might say that I was going to sleep on ‘a wing and a prayer’, or ‘down amongst the dead’, because I had chosen a little country church to bed down for a few hours, the name of which will not be revealed, though I’m sure that some eagle-eyed reader will have suspicions. When you approach a little church at dead of night, with only the light of a wispy half-moon, you may be filled with a mixture of feelings…..as I was. Fortunately, I am not superstitious nor do I believe in ghosts, and I’m (almost) sure that any strange noise in the night will have a natural explanation…..but I can assure you that churches at night are far from silent places. Indeed they aren’t…… there will be the cracking of roof timbers, birds or bats nesting somewhere, wildlife snuffling at the door, the hooting of owls and, if you’re unlucky, there may be church mice (or worse) scurrying about. Are you still tempted….?IMG_20180621_052205604.jpg

My heart was still pumping from the exertion of the bike ride, so not an appropriate physical state for descending into slumber. I laid out my sleeping mat, climbed into my sleeping bag and waited for sleep to descend…..but of course, it didn’t…..well not immediately. But I must have drifted off because when I awoke suddenly a couple of hours later, I  noticed that the early rays of dawn were just beginning to light up the windows. Two hours later again I opened my eyes expecting to see the fully risen light, but all I saw was complete darkness…….until I realised that, with the cold of the night, I had snuggled right down into my bag and had my face completely covered.

Uncovering my face I caught the whole building bathed in the bright sunshine of a perfect dawn. I had woken up just 5 minutes after the official time of the sunrise, and it was glorious. IMG_20180621_052512021.jpgThe mullion windows filtered the light coming into the nave, and the easterly sunrise enhanced the intense colours of the stained glass window. I immediately went outside and stood enthralled by the countryside waking up to the new day. This was a moment to savour, and the rationale behind going on this little escapade, a micro-adventure that I have decided to call ‘fly-kipping’…..you arrive, you sleep, you leave the place as you found it, leave a donation in the box, and enjoy the ride back home to begin the new day…….or go to bed if you are numbered amongst the ‘retired and idle’.

You won’t be surprised to learn (will you?), I didn’t go to bed……IMG_20180621_064027674.jpg

The Flash-Dash

Flash-Dash Cycle Mag JPegCould this be the start of a new trend in cycling? If you were social media savvy and enormously hungry to make a name for yourself, you could plug a new idea and flog it to death until…….until, that is, you get to a point where people recognise the message and begin to think it is not such a bad idea after all……and from there it rolls on.

The Flash-Dash will be no media ‘rage’……especially since it climbs on the back of the much more media savvy Alastair Humphreys, long distance cyclist, adventurer and author, who launched the idea of the ‘micro-adventure’ a few years back. He very neatly sowed the seeds of the idea of leaving your place of work on a mid-week evening and riding your bike to the top of the nearest mountain, to the shores of the nearest lake, to the depths of the nearest wood, or simply to a place that is far from anywhere, and camping down for the night, whether with a bivvy, hammock or tent. Dine under the stars (if they are shining), listen to the wild life throughout the night, wake up with the dawn and (perhaps) the rising sun, have breakfast on whatever you are carrying, then cycle back to your place of work, having experienced something very different and invigorating. For sure, you won’t be discussing the latest shenanigans on Coronation Street or East Enders.

My concept of the Flash-Dash is very similar, but more extended and (perhaps) more spontaneous……and some would say a complete ‘cheat’. What? You sleep in a bed for the night, and you always go with a tailwind behind you, and…… and……you can almost guarantee good weather for the duration? You’ve got to be kidding….

It all sounds impossible, but read on. Cycle Magazine, the national publication of Cycling UK (with a membership of over 60,000) squeezed my little offering in amongst the Traveller’s Tales at the end.

 

 

Monday becomes ‘Twosday’….

Monday becomes ‘Twosday’…

Good to go off-road….and the track around Grafham Water is incomparable…forgetting, of course, the swarms of mosquitos by the water side. Being a Bank Holiday Monday, there were myriad bikers out enjoying this late spring holiday: from the kitted-out, camel-backed enthusiasts to the more senior rider with electric-assist machines, from the carefree ‘sit-up-and-beg’ riders to families with trailer bikes and child carriers….they were all there, and they all had smiles on there faces, except when they were struggling up one of the many little hills.

We passed a couple who had stopped to rest, and she looked at us on the tandem and the expression on her face seemed to say: “I’d like one of those, then he could do all the work….”.

We can access the track from a bridleway just 5km from our home, so no need to load the tandem into the car, and the round trip puts 25km onto the clock….so worth getting kitted up for it. And with a couple of cafés on the circuit, there’s no need to go off-piste in search of refreshments, and with Grafham Cycling also located on the route, any mechanical issues can be resolved during the ride.

The temperature rises….

A breeze of a ride down to Willington to eat cake with the boys ‘n girls……..😊 And don’t be taken in by the 0.04km headline box of the Relive animation…..it was actually 62km..

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